White Girl, African Art – A Conversation with Shirley Slemc, of Shirley’s Loft
By Amy Lauria
What inspires a blond, blue-eyed, white girl to create African Art?
It goes back to my childhood. I was raised in a multicultural environment, as far as the schools I attended. However, my father sometimes bought into stereotypes, didn’t understand those who weren’t like him. Even as a young child, it made me think.
And you thought…
I loved the way black girls looked. I didn’t understand why everybody didn’t see it. Why didn’t magazines show it? Why show so many blue eyed, blonds? Why do some people think other people are less than? Why can’t everybody embrace the beauty that they truly are? Why do young girls think they need to be blond, blue eyed? Even as a grade schooler, I noticed it and had an issue with it. Knew it was so wrong. I was intrigued and wanted to know these girls stories.
Have you been to Africa?
No, I haven’t.
My African Art isn’t exclusive to Africa. It’s more about beauty. When I was in school, the black boys didn’t always see the black girls as being as beautiful as white girls. I saw issues within the culture and race. It seemed to me that those young ladies had it harder, had more hurdles to overcome. I wondered if they saw their own beauty. I had (still have) many close friendships with black girls/women. As I’ve grown as an artist, I deeply wanted to convey in some way, their beauty and strength.
What were you hoping to accomplish with your Strong and Courageous Series?
I’m an artist and a Christian woman. I matured with age and experience. I believe we were all created by God and I don’t think God sees us as colors and races. Thinking less of others is saying we don’t appreciate his artistry. His work.
True. I hadn’t ever thought of it from that angle.
What somebody would hold as beautiful here, might not be considered beautiful elsewhere. There are different standards of beauty all over the world. We are all just women when it comes down to it; all women, all races, in all parts of the world. And that’s what I’m hoping to capture visually. I’d love to do a series of Indian women, and many other cultures.
Tell me about your first three women, or “your girls” as you call them. Are they real women?
They aren’t done from pictures of real women, or women I know. Like all of my art, they come from somewhere inside of me. I see African women living with challenges, diseases, poverty and other circumstances I can’t imagine—and they are gorgeous. I tried to use art, created “my girls” to express that.
Can you explain their names?
Akachi: Means Hand of God. These three pieces mark the beginning of my Strong and Courageous Collection. I feel called by God to make this art and focus on the people and culture of Africa. These pieces depict the beauty and strength of this land and its people.
Chinaza: Means God Answers. In fact, I was a little worried about how this collection would be perceived. Would others understand? I actually asked out loud for God’s guidance one evening. The next morning I fired up my computer, and Chinaza sold. I took that as a sign!
Desta: The culture of Africa continually amazes me. The people have such a rich and unique story that I hope to hear in person someday. This incredible dance, portrayed in art is just one such example. My one wish is that I captured her power, grace and true self on canvas.
Drie Vroue: Means Three Women. I love Africa, the people of this content. I especially love their women. To me, they are strong, confident and beautiful. I appreciate their beauty and I see God’s hand in all of it.
Any last thoughts?
For me this series isn’t about selling art, it’s about expressing women. I tried to take myself out of it, to get closer to the Lord and further from me. I believe good things come from getting away from ourselves. I love all of my art—but my African series is special to me, is rooted deeply in my soul, at the core of all I believe in. I’m connected to “my girls” and felt called by God to put them on canvas.